The views expressed herein are mine and not those of the Peace Corps.



Useful Acronyms

PC Peace Corps
ICT Information & Communications Technology
PCT Peace Corps Trainee (pre-swearing-in)
PCV Peace Corps Volunteer (post-swearing-in)
PST Pre-Service Training
CBT Community-Based Training


When we stood up from breakfast this morning, we all groaned in unison as our legs complained, and with good reason: yesterday we hiked for eleven hours and descended almost six thousand feet (not counting the extra up we did, requiring matching extra down).
(Interesting digression: GPS says that my site’s at 7500 feet, the highest here in the Southern Highlands and maybe the highest in PC/TZ.)
We wanted to get an early start on the hike but waited for two hours for a guide who never showed up, so we left at 8.30. Mama Jully had never taken the high route down but said she could guide us anyway.
Tanzanians had told us that the youth could make the hike in four hours or so, so for us it should take six or seven. HAH. We all know that Tanzanians aren’t good at estimating times (it’s not important for them) but I think we still trusted their numbers more than we should have.
The hike was beautiful, across ridges and through a rainforest and then down infinite, muddy switchbacks with a view of the distant lake beneath us. The first few hours of the hike promised good views, if it hadn’t been completely cloudy. TheĀ  mud was intense. After a couple hours an old lady told us that we should cut some sticks: the mud would get worse ahead. A man with a machete cut each of us a bamboo pole; we gave him about a dollar. Six hours later, after the poles had saved us from falling uncountable times, one friend asked “Can we go back and give him more for these sticks?”
After five hours, finishing up with the climbing-along-ridges part of the hike, we ran into an old man and stopped to chat. “How much longer?” he said. “Well, for a youth probably an hour, but for you all, maybe two.” Two hours later we reached the top of a very tall mountain, having gone through a rainforest and a farming valley and an hour of rain (with an hour yet to go) and looked down at Lake Nyasa. Very far down. Then the switchbacks began, four hours of mud and rocks and zigzagging stretching into eternity. Three hours in we didn’t feel, or look, any closer to the lake.
And then my knees gave out.
And I lost my stick, put it down for a minute and watched it slide all the way down the mountain.
Mama Jully gave me her stick and I started moving more and more slowly. Two friends kept me company as the rest went on ahead and I moved down the mountain with tiny steps, creeping along like an arthritic old woman. On the slipperiest slopes I squatted and slid down on my butt.
But despite all this, despite the length of the hike, despite the rain, despite the mud and the switchbacks and the fact that we were all dead tired, we were somehow, amazingly, still in good spirits. We joked as I crept along, talked, discussed impressive falls from earlier in the hike (I think that, total, we all fell maybe 30 times. Everyone but Mama Jully fell at least once). It was a really good experience, and also the longest hike I’ve ever been on.
We got down the mountain around 7.30. It was dark. We walked through blessedly flat ground over to the main road, where I sat down and did not want to get up. We waited for a while and, thankfully, a pickup came along, so we climbed into the back along with nine other Tanzanians and a lot of luggage. “I love it,” said one friend. “Marie’s arm-in-arm with a strange woman, he’s hanging on to the outside of the truck, I’m getting chatted up by the conductor.”
In town the PCVs who had already arrived met our car. “I was so worried about you guys!” one of them said. “We did that hike in the dry season, and it took us twelve hours and we almost died.” They showed us to our rooms, took us to a rice and beans place for dinner.
After dinner we sat on the beach in the dark, under a lantern-bright moon. I went swimming in the lake. It was wonderful, as were the next two days, sitting on the beach reading and talking and swimming and doing absolutely nothing, which was just as well because my legs remained extremely sore. A friend told me that watching me go down stairs, moving slowly and wincing, was hilarious.
Definitely worth it, though, and a great hike. Spending a few days at the beach recuperating was exactly right.

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